Indian cricket and its functioning mirrors, in more than one way, the society we live in. It is a story of many plots and sub-plots, with no one central theme to it. At the core of the story are those who spend years and years to perfect their skills and yearn to showcase their craft to all those who love the sport.
The best among them form the Indian team and on their performance depends the mood of the nation. When they do well, the country gets euphoric and when they falter despondency sets in.
Then there are people who are called administrators, who run the sport and through their organisational skills create a competitive platform that helps these players and the teams they play for entertain the masses.
Since we live in an age of technological wonder, the visuals get transported to our homes, and the sport has a captive audience, which is limitless in number. This interlocking of the craft of sports and the use of its popularity as a business enterprise has created a world of pure joy, as well as of greed and self-aggrandisement, which knows no boundaries.
One part of the story is of the young cricketers getting catapulted suddenly to a stage where they are treated like gods and make earnings which would be the envy of many top corporates. Within that fold, stories of jealousies, rivalries and ego fights abound. “Very natural,” many would say, given human nature and the stakes involved.
So, when stories of Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virat Kohli not getting along circulate, no one disbelieves them, even if they may not be true. These are stories which are devoured by the beast called television with the ferocity of a hungry lion tearing into his meal. Such rifts may not always be the figment of someone’s ‘creative’ imagination. In the long history of Indian cricket, such things have happened in the past, are happening in the present and will surely happen in the future as well.
The difference from the past is that we are living under 24x7 media scrutiny where these very ‘human’ foibles provide the juices which keep the media industry running. Sure, these run-downs also affect the team’s performance and hence when the team is not performing well, these ego tussles are bound to get magnified.
Often what lends a sinister edge to these ego battles in the present times are the allegations of sleaze, fixing, television rivalries and the administrators who seem to be more interested in bettering their own life than helping the sport and sportsmen grow.
When Lalit Modi, whose tweets probably are the most eagerly awaited event of the day, alleges that international players are on the take of bookies or cricket corruption has engulfed all the leading lights of the political parties, no one disbelieves him. He is not just seen as a villain, but also a whistleblower who is warning his rivals that ‘if you expose my wrong doings, I will expose yours.’ It is a blackmailing tactic whose ethics can’t be challenged by those who were at one time willing partners of the ‘crime’ he is alleged to have committed.
He is the same man who Ravi Shastri called the ‘Moses of cricket’ when he launched to almost near perfection a product called the Indian Premier League (IPL) in 2008.
This million-dollar brand has and still is changing the very traditional contours of the game as we know it. Regardless of whether you are an IPL hater or its admirer, the popularity of this format and the amalgamation of glamour, money and corporates have left cricket as a sport in a breathless flux, its future as unpredictable as the result of the toss of a coin before a match begins.
Among the many unsavoury byproducts of the IPL is one very welcome lexicon to the Indian State’s vocabulary: The conflict of interest. Its founding father by no means was N Srinivasan, who, in his desire to use cricket to further his business interests, became the all-controlling authority of Indian cricket.
The seeds of his future battles with Modi were sown in this greed to decide what is wrong and right for the sport, keeping personal interests in mind.
Today this term has gained a currency much beyond its links to cricket. What the IPL and the war within the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) have done is that they have exposed the conflict of interest that abounds in our political system. The Lalit Modi saga, the money that cricket, especially the IPL, is generating, has reached such a disturbing level that it is today leaving even our State vulnerable.
The Supreme Court had to step in to prevent Srinivasan from running amok and is trying to make efforts to make the BCCI accountable, transparent and the sport less susceptible to outside greed and manipulations.
Former Chief Justice of India Justice LM Lodha is in the process of finalising the do’s and don’ts for the BCCI. Going by the 80-point questionnaire he sent to the board officials, it is obvious that at the centre of his recommendations would be attacking and eliminating this Frankenstein monster called conflict of interest.
The Indian political system and its masters should take heed from what is debilitating the otherwise healthy state of Indian cricket. There is a need for everyone to realise the destructive potential of this conflict of interest situation and take corrective measures before it gets too late.
Pradeep Magazine is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal.